The goal at Hixson High School hasn’t changed. Coach Garrick Hall and the Wildcats want to win the region wrestling tournament.
It could be easier this year with perennial region-title contender Soddy-Daisy moving to Region 4 along with Ooltewah and East Hamilton, joining the rest of the area’s Class AAA schools.
“We’re 900 students and we were competing against schools with somewhere around 1,400 students,” Hall said. “Our mindset hasn’t changed at all. It doesn’t matter who’s in the region. The whole goal is to try to win the region and get as many people to the state tournament as we can with the idea of competing for the state championship.”
There still are traditionally strong programs in Region 2-A/AA including Central, East Ridge, Notre Dame and Red Bank. Still, the absence of the three AAA schools from the seeding meeting was odd.
“Every year you knew Soddy-Daisy was going to take that first-place trophy. Without them it puts A/AA schools up on the radar a little more,” Signal Mountain coach Joe Jellison said.
“I hadn’t even thought about it,” said Hall, whose team is hosting the first Region 2-A/AA tournament. “It may be a lot calmer, I think, and the change gives a guy who might’ve been a No. 5 seed [in the previous alignment] a better chance to get to the state tournament. You take those three teams out of it and it increases the opportunity for other schools — the smaller schools — to take some kids to the state tournament.”
While their absence opens the door for smaller-school wrestlers, Soddy-Daisy, Ooltewah and East Hamilton are now in Region 4-AAA with Bradley Central, Cleveland, McMinn County, Rhea County and host Walker Valley. Four of those teams – Cleveland, Soddy-Daisy, Bradley and Walker Valley – were ranked among the top 10 in the final Tennessee coaches’ poll.
“I’m looking forward to this one more than the one last year,” Soddy-Daisy coach Jim Higgins said of the transition. “I’m excited about a different field, and in the long run we’ll be facing tougher competition before the big show. There are a handful of matches that could be state-finals matches, and it also incorporates some heated rivalries.”
The change came after the TSSAA agreed to sanction a small-school state tournament.
“They’re trying to grow the sport. It is a chance for more kids to compete, and we’re competing against schools that are closer to our size,” Hall said.
East Ridge coach Chris Bird wrestled at East Ridge during a time when the region tournament included Baylor, McCallie, Notre Dame, Red Bank and Central — and when Soddy-Daisy was just beginning to blossom under Steve Henry.
“In my tenure as a wrestler and assistant coach, the region has changed four or five times. I guess I got used to it changing,” Bird said. “If the point of the TSSAA is to grow the sport, they’re doing the right thing.”
The 2-A/AA tournament is one of three Tennessee qualifiers going on this weekend.
In another first, Division II teams are in their first year for a qualifying tournament. In previous years, Division II basically had an all-comers tournament at the state without anybody going through a qualifying tournament.
This year there are two qualifying regions: East/Middle and West. The East/Middle, which has more participation, will have six spots for each weight class and the West three. Before the start of the state tournament next week, the sixth-place finisher from the East/Middle will compete against the third-place finisher from the West for the right to advance into the state field. No state tournament points will be accrued from those matches.
The East/Middle regional is at Baylor and begins at noon today. The plan is to wrestle everything today.
“It’s basically a preview of next week,” McCallie coach Mike Newman said.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...